Small white Westie digging a hole in his grassy backyard

How to Stop a Dog from Digging—Good Versus Bad Remedies

Have you recently adopted and brought home a pup from the shelter only to discover that he loves to dig? Suddenly, you have several holes in your garden and torn-up grass to contend with! But before you panic, know that this is a common problem for dog owners, and there are solutions.

The best way to stop digging is to gently but firmly break your dog’s impulse to dig; distract and redirect your dog to something more interesting; provide your dog with exercise and a comfortable environment; create physical barriers to discourage digging; train using positive reinforcement and never punish. Digging is an instinctive behavior that can be managed with consistent training.

Continue reading to learn more about effective methods to stop digging and bad remedies that can be emotionally or physically harmful to your dog.

To Prevent Your Dog from Digging First Determine Why He Does It

Instinctive Behaviors

Remember that digging is a deeply ingrained canine behavior before you write your new furry friend off as a bad dog. Dogs in the wild have several important survival reasons for digging, which include:

  • Burying and hiding food
  • Making a cool place in the dirt to lay in on a hot day
  • Digging for small prey such as rodents
  • Creating a den

Environmental Factors and Previous Challenges

Make sure your dog has a cool place to lie down on warm days. Provide a comfy bed or cushy blankets to lie on as well, and always give your dog access to shade and water if left outside.

Strays or dogs in hoarding situations may worry about not getting enough to eat. As a result, dogs coming from these situations may have an increased tendency to hide and bury bones or scraps for later. They may also spend more time in the yard hunting and digging for small varmints as additional food. You may be able to remedy this by providing consistently scheduled meals at the same time each day.

A highly fearful dog who has not yet adapted to his new “forever home” may attempt to escape by digging under to fence. Time, love, patience, and proactive management will be necessary. You can see more in my post, How to Help a Scared Rescue Dog Adapt to His New Home.

Frustration, Boredom, or Stress

Dogs who are left alone for several hours a day in the yard, may become lonely and bored. Digging is a way to entertain themselves. It is fun and provides both an emotional and physical outlet as something to do during the day.

Additionally, a dog who is stressed or frustrated may resort to digging in reaction to being frustrated or maybe just curious about who or what is on the other side of the fence. If they hear a noise in the other yard, they may become a little anxious. If they cannot see through the fence, they might become frustrated and try to dig under the fence.

A newly adopted shelter or stray dog may be very frightened and try to escape. He may try to dig and tunnel under the fence to make his getaway.

Effective and Humane Strategies to Stop Digging

Take Practical Measures to Discourage Digging

It may not be possible to always know why your dog wants to dig. So, the first step is to safeguard your yard as much as possible. Any part of your yard that is an easy target such as flower beds and gardens will need to have some protection. Grassy areas will be more challenging and you may need to combine training with preventitive measures.

Cover dirt perimeters and flower beds with gardening mesh for weed prevention. Place gravel or a thick coat of bark on top of the mesh. Try not to have any exposed dirt to tempt your pooch. Additionally, place small fences around tree wells or garden areas to discourage digging. Gravel, rocks, or even bricks may be useful at the base of your fenceline if your dog shows a desire to dig under the fence.

To protect your lawn, keep your grass thick and healthy to avoid dead patch of grass and dirt to appear. If your dog finds a favorite spot he likes to dig up, you can try spraying the area with a 50/50 solution of vinegar to water periodically. Dogs do not usually like the smell of vinegar and will avoid the area.

TrainingBreak His Impulse to Dig in the Moment

Training will take some time as you will need to monitor your dog. Teach him the “No!” or “Leave It” command and use it immediately if he starts to dig. Use positive reinforcements such as praise and training treats as soon as he stops. He will eventually learn that not digging is more rewarding. Do not give him these commands or scold him after the fact, as he will not understand. And if he is already anxious, scolding will increase his anxiety and stress.

Distract and Redirect

If your dog starts to dig, you can scatter treats nearby to distract him. Again, praise him so he learns this is more fun than digging. You can also create a small sandbox with dirt or sand and bury treats in it. Then reward him with praise for digging in the sandbox. Continue to use the “No” command if he digs elsewhere. This way, he an still have some digging fun without destroying your yard.

Reduce the Need to Dig

Start with proactive measures to reduce your dog’s natural desire to dig:

  • Always feed your dog at the same time each day — usually two meals a day is best with snacks at lunch & bedtime
  • Provide your dogs with his own bed or crate as his den
  • Ensure your dog has water and a cool place in the shade to lay down if outdoors
  • Manage rodent infestations such as gophers, mice, and rats

You cannot completely stop your dog’s instinct to dig, but you can lower the threshold for his need to do so.

Make Your Dog’s Home Environment as Pleasant as Possible

We may or may not know what our dog’s previous life was like. And, even if your dog was not abused or neglected, he may still be very anxious. Moving into a new home without understanding the future can be very unsettling for any dog. He must learn your rules and get used to his new home and family members. Learning to trust and bond with you will be a process that will not happen overnight. Therefore, he may be anxious and use digging as a nervous outlet.

So, avoid leaving him alone for long periods of time and provide him with plenty of exercise such as long walks in the park and playing fetch. These activities will help relieve pent up, anxious energy and help him bond with you.

Break the Impulse and Use Positive Reinforcement

Dogs do need to learn some commands to break their impulse such as No!, Leave It!, or Stop! to interrupt their behavior and keep them safe. I taught my dogs all of these commands and the Leave It! and No! commands saved them a couple of times from dangerous situations.

Once, I spilled thyroid medication all over the kitchen floor. As they headed toward the spill, I yelled, “Leave It! ” They skirted away as I quickly swept it up. On another occasion, I drove them to the park for a walk and parked on the street. They both lept out as I opened the car door, just as I noticed that one of my dog’s leashes had become unlatched. The only thing I could think to say was No!, but it worked. They both froze in their tracks as a car whizzed by.

So, breaking the impulse for unwanted behavior is important. But do not scold or punish your dog. Recent studies have demonstrated that positive reinforcement is much more effective and better for your dog’s emotional health. This is especially true if your dog is already stressed, anxious, or frightened.

Remedies to Stop Digging that Can Be Bad for Your Dog

I have heard of some very unpleasant and ineffective ways that some owners recommend to stop digging which include:

  • Spraying your dog with a garden hose
  • Scolding or spanking after the fact
  • Making your dog sit in the hole and fill it with water as punishment
  • Placing chicken wire over areas where the dog digs
  • Electric fences or barriers

These are all pretty bad remedies as they are not very effective and harsh for your dog. In addition, your dog will probably not understand and may suffer emotional or physical damage.

Chicken wire may seem benign, but it can rust, break, and puncture your dog’s tender feet. Therefore, I prefer gardners weed mesh which is effective and not harmful.

Electric fencing uses a very low voltage to give an unpleasant sting if a dog tries to crawl under or step over it. Thus discouraging him from crossing the fence. However, these fences have mixed results.

I used an electric fence once when I lived in Arizona. We placed a 12-inch wire around the perimeter of our yard to keep our Beagles from digging in the outer beds. But I tripped over the wire a few times, and the Beagles eventually figured out how to jump over it. So, we ultimately took it out and replaced it with a regular small fence, which was a more effective method and less stressful for all of us!

Final Thoughts

Digging can be prevented and managed. But it does take a little work to stop and redirect your dog’s instinctive behavior. First, make sure you provide for your dog’s physical and emotional needs. Next, protect your yard as much as possible. Then, monitor your dog so you can stop him in the moment and redirect him to something else. Finally, use positive reinforcement to train and change his behavior, and never punish your dog for doing what dogs naturally do!

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